Old-World French Criterium Is a Family Affair
Words and Images by James Startt
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You may or may not know that Louis Pasteur was born in Dole. And it really doesn’t matter. But for the past two years, this town in the Eastern region of France known as the Jura, has put together a wonderful little criterium race. Made popular back in the day when most families didn’t have television sets, the criterium events allow bike racing fans a chance to get a closer glimpse of the heroes of the Tour de France. And the Criterium Cycliste International du Grand Dole does just that.
“I remember back in the day, there would be 50, maybe 60 criteriums around France after the Tour,” says two-time Tour de France winner Bernard Thevenet, one of the guests of this year’s event. “We would race every day, sometimes two times or even three.”
“I would race at least 20 crits after the Tour,” recalls French climber Richard Virenque, another “personality” on hand.
This year, however, there may well only be two criteriums. As French Covid restrictions are tightening, mass events like criteriums are already being canceled around the country. And while the Dole Crit is only in its second year, it is one of the rare events to survive this year.
“Already last year, we gained the confidence of the local authorities,” says race organizer Franck Boudot. “Everyone entering the circuit must show proof of a vaccine or a recent Covid test. And we even have the Tour de France medical van here to give all participants and staff tests if needed.”
For Boudot, who has worked as a mechanic on the AG2R-Citroen team for the past 15 years, organizing a post-Tour criterium in his hometown is nothing short of a dream come true. “This is the first time in 15 years I stayed home and didn’t do the Tour de France. But I really needed the time in July to put everything in place.”
He spent much of the year putting together the budget—110,000 Euros, with no fewer than 103 partners—to fund the infrastructure of the course, the riders’ start fees as well as the five-course post-race gala dinner with fireworks.
But clearly his labor of love was worth it
My biggest satisfaction was seeing everything getting better. The start village was better organized. We had 30 pros and 10 amateurs. The riders put on a great show and the crowd loved it. And then our post-race dinner was better.”
Riders showed up early in the afternoon in their own cars. There were no mechanics on hand to pump up the tires on the bikes, and several juggled bike racing with parenting duties. Clearly the Dole Criterium was a family affair.
The day officially opened with veteran classic king Johan Museeuw and French climber Richard Virinque riding several laps before each rider was introduced and did their own lap, accompanied by a boy or girl that was a member of the local club. And then there was the publicity caravan that did its lap, giving out plenty of goodies.
And finally it was time for the race itself, a 60-lap, 60-kilometer race around the center of Dole. Attacks started from the gun, but few lasted more than a couple of laps as the pack raced around unbridled from any well-planned team strategy. Not surprisingly French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni won the sprint competition. And then in the final laps, Total Energies rider Pierre Latour broke free along with Aurelien Paret-Peintre to win the overall honors.
But festivities continued well after the race as fans were allowed to seek autographs, and more than 700 had reserved their table at the post-race gala dinner.
Make no doubt about it, there was some great racing, but mostly the Criterium Cycliste International de Grand Dole was a celebration of cycling for everyone on hand.